Resourceful Records Managers- Brad Houston

Our eagerly anticipated series Resourceful Records Managers returns! This month we meet Brad Houston, City Records Officer and Document Services Manager for the City of Milwaukee.

*If you would like to be included in this feature please contact Jessika Drmacich,  jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu.

BradHouston

What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?

Honestly, I kind of fell into it– took a RM course as an elective during my archives program at the University of Maryland, had an RM internship in the Executive Office of the President that summer, and when I was done with school I took a job at UW-Milwaukee doing records management. Somewhere along the line I said “hey, this is actually really cool” and I haven’t looked back.

What is your educational background?

I have a BA from Grinnell College and an MLS from the University of Maryland-College Park, back when it was still the College of Library and Information Studies. (I refuse to use the i-word in conjunction with that program. I got in before it happened, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) While I was at Maryland, I participated in the HiLS (History and Library Science) program, which allowed me to work on my MA in European History at the same time as I was working on my MLS.

Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?

A few– mostly members of the Records Management Roundtable steering committee, who were very good about reaching out to new members and providing good advice about progressing in the RM side of the Archives career. (This is, BTW, one of the reasons I want to do education when I have the time– I want to pay it forward.)

How did you first become interested in Records Management?

I guess it was that internship at the Executive Office of the President I mentioned– I had done archives work before but this was my first real-life exposure to active records, and I found it fascinating. Records are the life-blood of an organization, and categorizing them in series to make sense out of them is an intriguing puzzle to solve.

What is your role at your institution?

As records officer for the City of Milwaukee, my primary duty is to manage and sign off on the city’s records retention program, and a lot of my day is spent on that. I am also, however, manager of the City Records Center, which is Milwaukee’s storage space for inactive records and home of the city’s central imaging program. As I mentioned in my recent(ish) blog post it’s easy to fall into the trap that I’m still overseeing an archive, but I’m constantly reminding myself that a lot of what we have is not going to stay around, by definition. (That said we *do* have a lot of really good archival stuff that we should do more to promote.)

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The challenge! I know that’s a cliche answer but it’s really true– I was getting a bit into a rut at UWM, but working at the City is giving me a chance to work with a functional EDMS and imaging program, a central records system, and learn about entirely new functions and activities of both my unit and of the city as a whole. There’s a lot of work to be done– for example, I am working on cleaning out 4000 of our approximately 5500 schedules, which is obviously going to take a while– but it’s interesting work and likely to keep me busy for a while.

What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?

Honestly, looking back at my tenure at UWM I am pleased to have left both the records management and electronic records programs better than I found them. I feel like I really raised the profile of both programs and made UWM employees more aware of the their records and archives responsibilities, which is going to lead to more of the University’s institutional history being preserved. That’s a great feeling. Hoping I can replicate it at the City!

What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?

I’ve worked in University archives and am now working in Local Government. I’ve talked a bit already on this blog about some of the differences, but here’s another one– I am, to a much greater extent than at UWM, on my own with regards to retention management. It was nice having the safety net of my colleagues at the other UW campuses to bounce questions/concerns off of, and to work with on vetting legal and administrative requirements in scheduling; here, I largely have to do that myself (though we do have an Info Management committee that provides review/feedback.) See above about The Challenge.

What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?

Lean into it! Records Management is an invaluable skill to have, even if you are going to be doing mostly archives, because it encourages you to take an analytical approach towards appraisal, processing, preservation, etc. In general, helping institutions apply records management in situ means less work for you the archivist later. (Plus, of course, you’re making yourself that much more hire-able if you have a specialty like this– Records Managers promise a tangible return on investment to institutions, and so the positions are a bit easier to find.)

Do you belong to any professional organizations?

I’ve been a member of SAA since 2006, a member of the Midwest Archives Conference since 2011, and recently re-upped my membership with ARMA. I also joined NAGARA upon taking this position, since I am still new to Local Government and will take all the help I can get!

Thoughts on the future of records management?

I’m with Don Lueders (https://nextgenrm.com/2017/04/29/on-why-the-records-management-profession-must-endure/) on this– I don’t feel like records management is going to be replaced by information governance, nor should it be. There’s so much stuff being created every day, so much of it is taking up space (physical or otherwise) unnecessarily, and it is our job as information professionals to apply our expertise to, if not solving the problem, at least remediating it. If information governance is part of that solution (and it should be), great. IG doesn’t have the same objectives or focus as RM, however, and it’s important to maintain that focus, especially in a digital world.

What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?

Again, it’s cliche to say “electronic records”, but it really is! ERMSs are one thing, but increasingly we’re dealing with an information ecosystem that can’t be put into a DoD 5015.2 box, or at least not easily. We need to be actively thinking about the next big thing in the way we as a society convey information, and about what we want to do with that next big thing from a management and retention viewpoint. I feel like a lot of institutions give RM the role of managing paper records only, and we collectively need to push back on that– we have (or should have) a lot to offer in the digital realm as well, and we need to keep growing if we are to survive as a profession.

Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?

As followers of my Twitter account will soon surmise, I play the Magic: the Gathering collectible card game, I have a more-than-casual interest in National and Wisconsin politics, and I am an outspoken Cubs fan. (They were eliminated last night… Hopefully we won’t have to wait 108 years for the next World Series championship.) I like to bake, garden, and bike ride, but my time for those has been reduced significantly by the birth of my son 2 years ago. (Luckily he’s now at an age where he can help me garden and goes in the bike trailer, but baking with a 2 year old is still a challenge.)

Do you have a quote you live by?

“Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.” –Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (This is the flavor text on some versions of the Archivist Magic card, which MAY have something to do with my appreciation of this quote.)

 

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Developing a Records Management Program: The People Part

Hello Readers:

My name is Elizabeth and I’m the Archivist for Records Management at the Bentley Historical Library for the University of Michigan. In my role, I am responsible for the development of a records management program that will fit – and ultimately benefit – the University. While the program builds upon the work of past Bentley archivists responsible for the development of university collections, what we really seek to bring is a collaborative approach to University-wide recordkeeping and to align that approach with the University’s overall information governance strategy. At the time of this post, the program is just over a year old.

My work is most closely affiliated with that of the field archivists. The five of us constitute the Collections Development Unit. Together, we manage donor relationships and collecting priorities. Managing donor relationships is a substantial conversation on its own and it is one I will be musing upon from time to time. To be frank, I’ve been a bit dissatisfied with the literature I’ve read on the subject of building a records management program. In particular, the bulleted lines of advice such as “get buy-in”, “find stakeholders”, and “develop a liaisons network”. Easy-peasy!

Hold up.

Of course it is not that simple.

When talking about donor relationships, many archivists envision individuals and families in keeping with the manuscript tradition. Institutional archivists and records managers don’t do that per se. Our donors are departments and units and business functionaries. We also have individual contacts within those bodies. So, in addition to managing relationships with our donors over a long period of time, we also must manage the contacts we make. Whether those contacts are the agents of transfer, records liaisons, sources of institutional knowledge or potential allies, the cultivation and stewardship of those contacts ranks among the most important functions of any institutional archives and records management program.

Gosh, if managing relationships isn’t a skill on its own. There are plenty of articles on emotional intelligence and soft skills. Career guidance for records managers usually include a call for ‘good communication skills’. Just this past summer I attended a lovely session titled Soft Skills for Hard Tech at SAA. There are articles and one-pagers dedicated towards crossing that IT/Archives/RM/IG barrier. However, the challenge I face while building the program is not just a matter of parlance. It’s a matter of experience, strategy, relationship-building and negotiating bureaucratic politics.

Thinking back to collections development, let’s take a moment to consider what “development” entails. In the nonprofit world, a part of development is the creation, nurturing, and maintaining of relationships that hopefully will lead to charitable contributions. And this is how I came to be sitting in the office of Ceci Riecker, the Bentley’s Director of Development.

Ceci’s origin story is that of an English major. Like some English majors (*ahem*), she didn’t have focused career advisement and she didn’t mean to set out into the world as the next Rory Gilmore. Ceci worked for some time as an administrative assistant in a local bank before moving on to work for the well-known Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. She found a position at the Museum of Natural History in development and gradually worked her way up into leadership positions at St. Joseph’s and EMU. During this time, she explored the world of nonprofits and cultural heritage on her own, finishing work in Historic Preservation at EMU. When she heard that the Bentley was seeking applicants for a Director of Development, she resolved to apply with a simple message: “You need me.”

Ceci’s appreciation for our mission, combined with the skills and network of contacts she has cultivated in the course of her work, really spoke to me. Chatting with her has only strengthened my suspicion that those of us intent upon building a records management program can stand to take a few cues from our partners in the nonprofit development sector.

“Think of development as education. What did Terry* say the other day, educate up, mentor down?” I smiled at this, and agreed. Yes, every meeting I have, whether I’ve partnered with my field colleagues or not, usually includes a solid 15-minute pitch crafted through research (donor files, a gap analysis of the finding aid, and a good ol’ fashion newspaper) and the feel of the conversation. Maybe they’ll contact me for a records schedule, maybe not, but the seeds have been planted.

“It’s about trust and a relationship. Manage the ask.” In other words, going in with a list of demands may be heavy-handed at best, off-putting and tactless at worst. Managing your asks and those touches (“Hey, I thought of you when this came through our door…”,) may take time but the relationship you cultivate will last. If something comes up, that relationship you’ve taken the time to forge means you’ll have an ally in the office more willing than not to assist you.

On the matter of research, she summed it up succinctly. “Knowledge. Interest. Respect.” Doing the research beforehand goes to show that you are interested and knowledgeable without you having to say you are interested and knowledgeable. Putting that effort in demonstrates respect for their time and their conversation.

What about building a network? “It’s about identifying the points of connection.” This, too, makes sense. Some months ago we began to receive packages in the mail from one of the units on campus. After several of these unsolicited offers of “old yearbooks”, I reached out via telephone to personally thank my contact for the time she had taken to send us the materials and to also fish for a little information. Was she cleaning out a closet? Was she aware of the records scheduling and transfer services we offer to units? The answer was yes and no – in fact, it was several forgotten closets being unearthed by architects during a swing space evaluation. This particular building is being renovated and all the administrative units and student organizations housed there are being headquartered elsewhere for the next year. This move is a major trigger event, and we’ve been able to partner with dozens of new allies.

(n.b. Nonprofit development staff also have moved beyond Excel spreadsheets and have invested in tools and products which help them to identify and manage those points of connection, such as Raiser’s Edge and Salesforce. I personally think it interesting to think about possible applications of these tools when considering traditional archival donor management techniques.)

Like many, I dislike receiving criticism. The reality is that we need that criticism to know ourselves. We are asking that others share with us an intimate knowledge of their office dynamics and information. We are asking that they trust us with our professed expertise. Thus, I am not embarrassed to write that I asked Ceci point blank what she found to be her greatest weakness. “Long-term planning is a tough one. Things pop up and I could just do it myself, but it won’t be half as good as if I did it with the way it’s supposed to be done…with my team!” Her honesty on this was – is – reassuring for me to hear. As a relatively early careerist in higher education, I often find that pace is challenging. How long should it take to build a program? How do I best manage my expectations for its development? Why don’t people email me with questions?! We have a website!

There is no real conclusion to this post other than for me to say that I’m happy to have explored another perspective. Archivists and records managers extol the virtues of being interdisciplinary. When it comes to managing and improving our own business processes, what harm is there in looking outside the profession for a little inspiration?

For those of you interested in building a network of records liaisons and contacts more strategically, Ceci has recommended the Council for Advancement and Support of Education as a good starting place to learn more about development tools and techniques.

*Terry McDonald, Director of the Bentley Historical Library

And now: Archives/Records Carols!

Sometimes I get earworms. Sometimes those earworms involve the creation of filk snippets. Sometimes those snippets are so, ahem, compelling that I feel the need as a musician to finish them. The result of all of those sometimes around the winter holidays is the below, originally shared on Twitter and now brought here for your viewing/singing pleasure. I would apologize, but I’m not really sorry at all. THE FILK MUST FLOW.

In any case, whatever winter holiday you celebrate– or none at all– have a happy one! (And don’t forget to follow the retention period on your gift receipts!)

Continue reading “And now: Archives/Records Carols!”

SharePoint and Google Classroom and the 3 Steps for Quick Management of the Collection

As the digital age fully takes hold of modern society, the traditional concepts of a library, archives, museum are evolving into something far beyond just a place where books are stored. And as these institutions change, so too must librarians, archivists, curators, and media specialists and the resources they manage (https://tinyurl.com/y9hr2txj).   Google Classroom , just as SharePoint, is designed to help them effectively manage document sharing and provide feedback to the users of their collections on Google Drive for Google Classroom (or MSDE with SharePoint).  Classroom  and SharePoint can replace or work alongside your existing solutions (i.e. integrated library management system, archival collections management system, etc).

Google Classroom, just as SharePoint, is designed to be used by non-IT users without too much input from IT or Tech Support.  Unfortunately, the initial set-up for SharePoint is IT related unless you are using a hosted site giving rights to all of the features available.  Google Classroom only requires a Google account  and then you can build your Google Classroom up as you would a SharePoint site with your choice of modules to use for your work needs in less than 5 minutes per classification.

Do you want to show archived video to your collection’s users?  I had archived videos of a 10 year study I performed on a local natural resource, Lake Artemesia.  To share the videos with students, parents, teachers, and administrators, I created a Google Classroom that allowed all of these user types to experience Lake Artemesia through engaged exercises by answering questions after watching the videos.  This could also be a mini tour of your collection for your collection users to experience before coming to the actual exhibit onsite (see https://librariansandlibrarymediaspecialists.blogspot.com/2017/12/3-steps-for-quick-management-of.html).

4 Steps to a Possible Archiving of Classroom Management Records

In my previous blog postings, I have identified that discovery programs (maker space) that librarians and library media specialists create require busying the hands of young children when working in elementary schools that cover grades Pre-K to 6th.  The same could be said when dealing with fellow co-workers during online conferences conducted for office staff.   The topic for the In-house Field trip or office webinar may be developed by a librarian or library media specialist.  4 Steps could be implemented in order to have the ability to busy the hands of children and adults while the guest speaker is talking and interacting back and forth with the audience (see https://librariansandlibrarymediaspecialists.blogspot.com/2017/12/quick-and-dirty-roadmap-to-classroom.html)

New Functional Schedule for North Carolina State Agencies

A years-long project at the State Archives of North Carolina has culminated with the publication of the first Functional Schedule for North Carolina State Agencies.  Where state agencies have previously relied in a General Schedule for State Agency Records and hundreds of program-specific schedules, now all state agency officials have one 16-part retention and disposition schedule to guide them in the management of their public records.

In 2015, the Records Analysis Unit of the Government Records Section at the State Archives of North Carolina (SANC) began a project to revamp the retention and disposition schedules for state agencies in North Carolina.  Our overarching goals of the project were to simplify records retention, make the assignment of records dispositions more transparent, and ensure the retention of records with permanent value, either within the creating agency or at the State Archives.  We embraced the technique of functional analysis, whereby the functions of an institution are defined and the records that document these functions are linked.  Sixteen functions of North Carolina state government were identified, their record types listed, and disposition instructions provided.

Over 200 stakeholders from across North Carolina state government participated in meetings to review draft schedules for each of the 16 functions, and many staff at SANC in addition to the Records Analysis Unit also provided constructive feedback.  After these schedules reached their final draft stage, records analysts worked in concert with state agencies to crosswalk their records inventories to the new functional schedule.

These functional schedules standardize disposition instructions across State government and focus on the function of government that necessitates the creation of a record rather than on the particular agency that creates or maintains the record.  Therefore, users will not need to find relevant record types based on agency hierarchy but instead can identify record types relevant to the particular function of government they perform.  In addition, if the responsibilities of an agency change over time, the appropriate retention and disposition instructions for the records generated by this new function are already identified among the 16 functions identified above.  Realizing that an increasing share of state agency records are being created and maintained electronically, we attempted to group records with similar functions in “big buckets” in order to facilitate the appropriate disposition of these records that are housed in document management systems.

These new schedules can be viewed at https://archives.ncdcr.gov/documents/functional-schedule-state-agencies.  For a more in-depth look at the process behind this project, check out the case study published by SAA’s Government Records Section.

The 10 Records Scheduling Commandments

And it came to pass that Brad was preparing materials for records management training sessions, as one does;

And the frustration with the records management practices put in place by his predecessor did boil over.

Then did Brad throw together a quick-and-dirty records management graphic, and he shared it on Twitter for a lark.

Lo! That graphic became Brad’s most RT’ed Records Management-related post ever, for Brad hath toucheth a nerve.

…Enough of that. Anyway, I put this together to deal with the new type of decentralization in place at the City of Milwaukee, to wit the records

10CommandmentScheduling

coordinator network. On the one hand, having dedicated records people in departments is nice and cuts down on your workflow… but the records management experience of these folks is, shall we say, varied, as is their control of the schedules their department may already have in place. As a result, my big records retention project for the first year or so here is eliminating the duplicate, obsolete, and superseded schedules in our database, of which there are 4500, give or take a few dozen. So, that’s a thing.

In any case, due to the unforeseen popularity of the 10 RM commandments, Eira asked me to go through them in a bit more detail. After all, these are Milwaukee-specific, but they speak to some very basic records management principles and best practices. So with that, away we go:

I. THOU SHALT have a records schedule for every type of record created or used by your office.

This is the basic point of retention scheduling—you’re only going to get a complete picture of your records ecosystem if you have all of your records scheduled, because that’s going to tell you how the various series work together. My frustration here has been departments saying “well, we keep these forever so we don’t need a schedule, right?” Wrong. A schedule is still useful for permanent records because it provides business continuity—the rest of your office sees what records are in the series, what they’re used for, and that they even ARE permanent in the first place.

II. THOU SHALT NOT create schedules for non-official copies of records, unless those copies have special destruction requirements.

Seems pretty obvious to us as information professionals, but I cannot count the number of schedules in the database that are pretty obviously for copies of the official record, held by the official office. Given the ease in which copies, especially electronic copies, proliferate, the idea of the “non-record”, and the fact that you can destroy non-records when no longer useful in most cases, is critical. (There is a line of thought that the record/non-record distinction is obsolete; I don’t see it. You’re still looking for the record used to document the actual business transaction, and the fact that other copies can still be discovered is all the better reason to get rid of the non-record copies sooner.)

III. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules before confirming that a schedule for that series (office-specific or global) does not exist.

Violation of this Commandment is why several records series in my database have 3 different record schedule numbers assigned to them. In most cases, these are created because the previous records schedule couldn’t be found in time for the submission to the WI public records board. This is testament to the need for a) the records manager to organize his/her/their schedules in a way that they will find them again later, and b) the records creator to maintain awareness of the department’s schedules and whether there’s an existing schedule for the documents he/she/they “discovered” in a closet.

Even better, use general schedules. These are easy to make available online, and you don’t have to worry about renewing a million specific schedules (see Commandment 9).

IV. REMEMBER that the existence of a records schedule does not imply a mandate for creation of that record series.

Currently, use of general schedules at the City is opt-in. I’ve already had one discussion where I was told a department didn’t want to opt in to a general schedule because “we don’t create all of the records on that schedule.” The response to this, of course, is, “That’s cool, you’re not obligated to. Records schedules specifically provide guidelines for existing records; they don’t make you create records for the sake of complying with the retention schedule.” This is not as much of a problem with specific schedules, for obvious reasons.

V. HONOR thy retention period; do not destroy records before they have expired.

Again, the whole point of retention periods, to wit giving you a time after which you can defensibly destroy/delete records. If your records creators are destroying records before that, they are doing anything from opening up their institution to spoliation sanctions, to actually breaking state or federal law, in the case of things like Sarbanes-Oxley records and records subject to public records acts.

What I *don’t* usually say in training is that most retention periods are minimums, and that the law doesn’t impose penalties for overretention except as part of the operational consequences of that decision (e.g. data is leaked that would not have been leaked had it been destroyed on time). I’m not going to *lie* if asked point-blank about it, but keeping quiet helps wear down the resolve of many a hoarder.

VI. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules for the same records in different formats.

holman_destruction_of_korah_dathan_and_abiram
The fate which awaits people who create a schedule for “E-mail”. Well, maybe not. But why chance it?

There are SO MANY of these in the City schedule database. SO MANY. People who do this are worse than Korach. THESE SCHEDULES ARE WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Well, not really, but they ARE why records creators get confused about retention with multi-format series. “Now, do I keep the paper permanently and scrap the electronic, or do I convert all of it to Microfilm and THEN destroy it, or…” Keep It Simple, Smarty. Record value, being based on content rather than format, should remain constant regardless of format, so why bother with 3 schedules when one will do the job? (Having said that, it may be worth indicating that records from one format may be disposed of once converted to another, e.g. via imaging.)

VII. THOU SHALT group functionally-related records with identical retention periods into as few schedules as possible.

My predecessor *really* liked building records schedules. Unfortunately, this often meant that individual forms or document types would get their own schedules, creating 3-4 schedules where one would have done the job. In general, I have been encouraging departments with a lot of these mini-series, where the various records support the same function and require the same retention period, to supersede the smaller schedules with a broader one that encompasses the whole series vs. individual documents. I was able to eliminate 37 License Division schedules this way—the old way of doing things had individual schedules *for each type of license*, all with the same retention period. Unreal.

VIII. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules for specific projects or time periods, unless the records are unique and/or scheduled for archival retention.

This is something that would happen from time to time at UWM as well, where departments would submit requests for records schedules for particular projects they were working on. This is, needless to say, not an efficient way to do records scheduling. If you just do one schedule for ALL project files, you cover retention needs for all similar records and don’t have to keep filling out the form every 9 months. The City introduced a new variant that I hadn’t seen before, where one series existed for records before a given date (1846-1900, say), and then a second for records after that date… but again, with the same description and retention period. This is making scheduling harder than it needs to be. Conservation of schedules never hurt anyone.

The one exception to this commandment is that if a series is no longer created, and either of historical value or needing a new records series in order to destroy it, I will reluctantly consent to a project-specific or date-limited series. My overall preference, however, is to go general when possible—and unless you like filling out the same schedule 50 times, it should be yours too.

IX. THOU SHALT review thy records schedules yearly and renew expiring schedules before they lapse (10 years after effective date).

In Wisconsin this is easy, because the Public Records law requires schedules to be renewed every 10 years in order to remain in effect. Fine… but the City of Milwaukee didn’t follow the procedures of the state records law for a long time with regards to schedule adoption, with the result that there are many, many schedules in my database that don’t have any expiration date at all. Even if the 10-year sunset period didn’t exist, however, it still would be a good idea to go through schedules periodically and make sure that they all reflect current workflows and legal and administrative needs, so I am not sure why that wasn’t done (Well, aside from the fact there were 5000 of them). So now I am doing the renewal and related research on updating schedules largely all at once for Department records, which does help me get a sense of what the different departments do or did. I would definitely rather do this a bit at a time rather than all at once, though.

X. THOU SHALT make the City Records Officer aware of any state, federal, or industry-specific legislation or regulations affecting retention or confidentiality of your series.

This Commandment is why Records Coordinators are so useful in the first place—they have knowledge of the specific industry or functional context of their own records in a way that a centralized records manager never will. As such, when writing retention periods, knowledge of any laws/regulations/etc. that govern the creators’ need to keep records around for a specific period of time is invaluable. Records Managers can, of course, look for inspiration in other institutions’ schedules for similar records, as well as in statutes and regulations they’re already familiar with for setting retention and privacy levels… but why go to the trouble if the records coordinator can just tell you “our professional organization suggests keeping these for 6 years”?

Thus did Brad share the rationale for his Records Management 10 commandments; Yea, he did so at his usual great length, approaching 2000 words.

Brad spaketh, “Please feel free to use/tweak these in your own institutions—they have served me well.”

Whereupon, he wandered off to call down the wrath of the Records Management LORD on those kids on his lawn.